Mmmmm – chocolate, chocolate, chocolate – everywhere! A chocoholic’s fantasy, a Great Festival of Chocolate – not a dream but a real event. Turin (or Torino, as locals refer to their city), Italy has been hosting an annual, weeklong chocolate festival for the past several years. Think about that! Then imagine stumbling into this festival while on a visit to northern Italy, and discovering that Torino is considered the chocolate capital of the world.
The first segment of our journey started in Torino, shortly after the 2006 Winter Olympics. This trip was purposely scheduled for after the games and ceremonies to avoid the much-anticipated crowds. We were delighted to be able to enjoy the pride exhibited by the host city. There were many colorful banners, displays and electric-light decorations strung from building to building across narrow streets, for blocks at a time, telling stories with word-shaped, colored-tube lights. The light displays were a combination Christmas, astrological and Olympic themes.
Due to, or because of, lackadaisical preparation, we discovered that the Paralympic Winter Games followed the 2006 Winter Olympics. This is the atmosphere we walked into – fun, expectation, revelry – without any "game plan" on our part. Our timing and luck could not have been better. It was just as exciting and as crowded as if we were at the Winter Olympic ceremonies. We went with the flow.
The second leg of our week-long stay in Italy included a visit to the incredible city of Florence. Though the late-March weather was not ideal for sight-seeing and people-watching, it did not stop us from exploring the city and its famous Uffizi Gallery. Absorbing the environment and character of Florence was tremendous.
The third part of our adventure and most awesome for me, was our return to Torino to find vendors and exhibitors setting up their booths for different chocolate creations and tastes – in the Piazza San Carlo where the Paralympic ceremonies were held. A chocolate school was represented where students learned how to make this heavenly and aromatic delight; vendors and manufacturers were selling chocolate pasta (I could not wait to make this pasta at home), we learned about the history of the famous Gianduiotti chocolate and we sampled galore. Numerous tents and booths lined the piazza, as well as along both sides of the main street, Via Garibaldi. All kinds of delicious chocolate – dark, milk, filled with liquor and/or flavored crèmes, solid, shapes (Easter was not far away) and many wrapped in colorful foil. The Italian specialty is, of course, Gianduiotti chocolate – a rich, smooth, concentrated chocolate blended with hazelnut that is not overly sweet. One taste and you can understand the passion the Italians have for chocolate and their Gianduiotti. For me, the excitement was the same as a kid at Christmas time – not knowing what to see or taste first – a delicious treat for the senses.
This year’s chocolate festival – CioccolaTÒ 2008 – is from February 22 to March 2, 2008, in Piazza Vittorio Veneto in Torino, features over 50 exhibitors. The event is truly a chocoholic’s dream come true – so much high-quality chocolate, in many forms and variations in one place at the same time! Such a temptation is meant to be indulged in with abandon. Italians know how to make the best chocolate and how to celebrate chocolate. Not surprisingly, I brought home as much chocolate as I could, to savor the memory and the enjoyment of the best of the food pyramid from Italy.